Asa and the High Places

We were asked to have a look at some allegations of contradiction between 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles surrounding the time of Asa. I have seen these objections used by more than one source

Asa's heart "was perfect with the Lord all his days," I Kings 15:14, II Chr. 15:17. However, according to II Chr. 16, Asa sinned by a) forming a league with Ben-Hadad of Syria, b) by throwing Hanani the prophet of the Lord in prison, c) by oppressing the people and d) consulting physicians rather than the Lord about his foot disease.

This is a misreading of hyperbole (see more, link 1 below) and the extreme language of the ancients. By no means are we expected to take the word "perfect" as meaning sinless perfection or "all his days" as every moment.

The phrase is used proverbially, as in these passages with similar language from another view: "For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity." (Eccl. 2:23) "The wicked man travaileth with pain all his days, and the number of years is hidden to the oppressor." (Job 15:20)

According to I Kings 15:14, "the high places were not removed." However, II Chr. 14:3-5 says, "he took away . . . the high places . . . he took away out of all the cities of Judah the high places." (Later the Chronicler raises a red herring, and tries to soften the contradiction. He says, "but the high places were not taken away out of Israel; nevertheless, the heart of Asa was perfect all his days," II Chr. 15:17. Of course the high places were not taken out of Israel! Asa ruled Judah and not Israel. He did not have power to remove the high places from Israel.)

The latter point is off the mark -- Asa did manage to take some cities in the Northern Kingdom, in the territory of Ephraim (2 Chr. 15:8), so Asa had a chance to remove some high places from Israel. Keep this in mind for later.

Answering the former will require backing up and taking a broader look at our texts. The Kings writer of course recorded history for all of the Jews (both Israel and Judah) while the Chronicles writer only recorded for Judah other than when Israel came in the picture. Naturally this gave Chronicles more space to record things, and it does report more about Asa's reign (3 chapters vs 1) than Kings does.

This leads to a key to resolving these issues. 1 Kings 15:11-15 records a summary of Asa's lifetime achievements (v. 14). In comparison, 2 Chr. 14:3-5 reports initial reforms at the beginning (first ten years) of Asa's reign.

Note that Kings reports the deposition of Macaah at the beginning with all other achievements, while Chronicles says this took place around Asa's 15th year.

Now we know Asa went downhill a bit at the end, and by that time you think some of the people didn't try to put some high places back? It is centain that they did.

Keep these variable purposes in mind as we go to this one:

According to I Kings, there was continuous war during the first 26 years of Asa's reign. According to II Chronicles, there was nearly continuous peace for the first 35 years of Asa's reign.

I Kings 15:16 and 32 both say that there was war all the days between Asa and Baasha. This would have been for the first half of Asa's reign, to the twenty-sixth year...

In contrast, II Chr. 14:1-7 says, "and Asa his son reigned in his stead. In his days the land was quiet ten years . . . the land had rest, and he had no war in those years, because the Lord had given him rest."

However, in or after the 16th or 36th year of Asa, he sents a gift to Ben-Hadad of Syria and offers friendship. For this, he is cursed by the prophet Hanani to have wars for the rest of his reign, II Chr 16:1-9. So, Asa had peace at first and "wars from henceforth" during the latter years of his reign.

The answer: The land of Judah did have rest -- Asa conducted a war that was an incursion into enemy territory, as Asa took cities from Ephraim. That's where the "war" Asa and Baasha had "all their days" was taking place: in Israel's territory.

II Chronicles 16:1 says, "In the 36th year of the reign of Asa, Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah, and built Ramah, to the intent that he might let none go out or come in to Asa king of Judah." However, I Kings 15 indicates that Baasha had already died in the 26th year of Asa's reign.

I Kings 15:28, 33, says "in the third year of Asa king of Judah, Baasha did slay him [Nadab] and reigned in his stead. . . twenty four years." I Kings 16:6-8 says, "Baasha was buried, and Elah his son reigned in his stead . . . In the 26th year of Asa king of Judah began Elah to reign over Israel." The additional data given by I Kings is all consistent with Baasha dying in the twenty-sixth year of Asa's reign, as we see in I Kings 16:15, 23, 29. If Baasha died in the twenty-sixth year of Asa, he could not have come up to build Ramah in the thirty-sixth year of Asa.

In another context we noted:

Did Baasha die in the 26th year or the 36th (2 Chr. 16:1)? The likely answer is a copyist error in one of the passages. See link 2 below for basic data. See Link 3 below for a picture of numbers in Hebrew. "Twenty" and "thirty" are both rightward crooks that can be easily confused.

A similar copyist error has been suggested for 2 Chr. 15:19, which refers to Asa's 35th year of reign. Gleason Archer is quoted:

If the number was written in numerical notation of the Hebrew alphabetic type . . . then 'sixteen' could quite easily be confused with 'thirty-six.' The reason for this is that up through the seventh century BC, the letter yod (=10) greatly resembled the letter lamed (=30), except for two tiny strokes attached to the left of the main vertical stroke. . . It required only a smudge from excessive wear on the scroll-column to result in making the yod look like a lamed--with a resultant error of twenty. It is possible that this error occurred first in the earlier passage, in II Chr. 15:19 (with its '35' wrongly copied from an original '15'); then to make it consistent in 16:1, the same scribe (or perhaps a later one) concluded that '16' must be an error for '36' and changed it accordingly on his copy.

This objector incorrectly understands Archer to be advocating a position that there were "two duplicate smudges causing the same error simultaneously." Archer is only positing one smudge, corrected, and a second "smudgeless" correction made in light of the first correction, thus resulting in two copying errors: One because of a smudge, the other because of the incorrect "correction" made because of the smudge.

The objector then naively suggests that "if the yod of 15:19 had seemed smudged, the scribe might have looked at 16:1 for clarification. Unless 16:1 was also smudged, the natural deduction of the scribe would be that the letter in 15:19 was in fact a yod. He would then have copied the first yod properly."

That is simply not the case. It might be borne in mind that copyists were not necessarily literate and may have had no idea what they were copying. A scribe may not have had the means to make a "deduction."

However, even if they did, this does not in any way guarantee that they would make such a deduction as suggested. Let's lay out how this could easily have worked:

And there was no more war unto the five and tenth year of the reign of Asa. In the six and tenth year of the reign of Asa Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah, and built Ramah, to the intent that he might let none go out or come in to Asa king of Judah.

This would be the original. Now let's get that smudge in place:

And there was no more war unto the five and **** year of the reign of Asa. In the six and tenth year of the reign of Asa Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah, and built Ramah, to the intent that he might let none go out or come in to Asa king of Judah.

You'll say, "That's easy to figure out." But what if that "smudge" followed the texture of the papyrus and made it look like:

And there was no more war unto the five and thirtieth year of the reign of Asa. In the six and tenth year of the reign of Asa Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah, and built Ramah, to the intent that he might let none go out or come in to Asa king of Judah.

So then what do you do (assuming of course you are a literate scribe)? The next numerical contextual clue is in 16:12 which refers to Asa's thirty-ninth year. An adjustment to "six and thirtieth" is an obvious option. (The original smudge could also have afflicted the "six and tenth" of course, with the same results.)

Note that a later scribe need not always have been familiar with the particulars of the history. Nor again, if they were actually illiterate and from their perspective merely copying symbols, is it sensible to suggest that the scribe could have "remembered" or consulted 1 Kings 15. In fact, even if they were literate, the fact is that most quotations in antiquity were done by memory, not by looking things up, and it's open to question as to how much of Kings was available, to whom, and when

Rather than I Kings 15 or II Chr.16:1 being used to prevent a copying error in II Chr. 15:19, an error arises because of a smudge. Then, this new smudge error causes the intentional change of a perfectly clear text in 16:1.

In the age before laser printers, no text was ever "perfectly clear" and numbers especially were subject to interpretation, as they provided few contextual markers other than other, nearby numbers. There are also the sorts of errors wherein a scribe's eyes look at the wrong line and copy and incorrect character from a previous line, which fits well here.

We should also note that scholars generally believe that I and II Chronicles were written after the return from exile in 538 BC. II Chr. 36 in fact takes us into the time of Cyrus the Great, which is the late sixth century. Now, Archer's solution depends on the use of "the numerical notation of the Hebrew alphabetic type," and upon the early form of the letter yod. However, this form of the letter yod was not used after the exile, so far as Archer tells us. If not, and if Chronicles was written after the exile with the later form of the letter yod, the error of II Chr 16:1 must have been in the original!

It's not so simple. The idea is that Chronicles was compiled at the end of the Exile, from previous written sources -- such as Kings, for example, as all agree. The events records at the time of Asa were of course prior to the seventh century BC. The source material for Kings and Chronicles was all pre-exilic, and the copying error could have happened anywhere in that time.

Archer's emendation creates another new problem. It makes II Chronicles 15:15 nearly senseless. According to II Chr. 15:10 Asa and the people enter into a covenant to serve God, in the 15th year of Asa. As a result, God gives the people 'rest,' 15:15. If Archer's suggested emendation is correct, the conflict with Baasha over building Ramah takes place in the very next year, the 16th year. That conflict is followed by continuous war as a curse on Asa! If we are to believe Archer, the 'rest' God gives is actually continuous war!

Note that the objector misses how well this happens to fit making the emendation to 15 and 16 in the later verses.

As for the remainder: ANY amount of time of "rest" was welcomed by people on the edge of survival and anxious for a breather. In perspective, even one year off from war is a "rest".

-JPH

Links

  1. Link
  2. Link
  3. Link